Having accrued over 45 years of inimitable experience on stage as a ballerina, Janet Sassoon retired from her position as the associate director of the Academy of Ballet in San Francisco in 1997, having previously the role of the director from 1974 to 1989. Initially known as the Pacific Ballet Company, the institution offers training for students on the verge of launching their professional careers and those who are merely beginning to immerse themselves in the art. Moreover, the Academy of Ballet boasts programs specially focused on children and adults, with a more rigorous curriculum available for professional dancers.
Born in Indonesia, Ms. Sassoon attended a ballet at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco at the age of 5, sparking a fascination that would blossom into a successful career by the time she became a young adult. Training under the tutelage of such luminaries as Leo Staats, Lubov Egorova, Olga Preobrajenska and Mathilde Kshesinskaya, she began her career on the stage at the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas in Paris in 1952, where she remained until 1955. Subsequently, Ms. Sassoon was invited to dance on stage across numerous cities throughout the United States.
Ms. Sassoon is particularly proud to have danced alongside Rudolf Nureyev at the Chicago Ballet and in Salt Lake City, and notably shared a dinner table with the top choreographer Agnes de Mille in America during this time. Traveling extensively, she was notably recognized as the prima ballerina of the Berlin Ballet in 1956. Having danced professionally well into her thirties, Ms. Sassoon pivoted towards teaching after sustaining an injury during a performance.
Ms. Sassoon taught various students throughout Europe and in her capacity as the director of the Academy of Ballet. Moreover, she coached Natalia Makarova after the birth of the famous prima ballerina’s child, and counts actresses Johanna Baer and Kyra Nichols among her pupils. Additionally, Ms. Sassoon has served as a master class coach on behalf of the Cincinnati Ballet and the Boston Ballet.
A one-time actress in the film “Impulse,” released in 1984, Ms. Sassoon is also the author of an autobiography, “Reverence.” Published in 2013, the book chronicles her experiences as a young dancer, her mentorship under various star ballerinas and her exemplary performances across three continents. Married to her husband John Roland Upton Jr. since 1983, she enjoys such activities as cooking, gardening and writing in her spare time. Currently, Ms. Sassoon is working on a second book. She also occasionally visits the Academy of Ballet, where she is often moved to tears at how well its youngest students continue to perform. She is proud to have played an instrumental role in affording such an opportunity for each generation of students who have passed through the academy’s doors over the years.
In light of her exceptional undertakings, Ms. Sassoon was selected for inclusion on the sixth edition of Who’s Who in American Education, the 17th edition of Who’s Who in the World, the 27th edition of Who’s Who in the West, and several editions of Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in Entertainment. Her advice or words of advice or encouragement for the next generation or others aspiring to work in her profession would be that if you cannot live without it, then do it. If they can live without it, then do something else that is in the theater because, in Ms. Sassoon’s belief, ballet is the most difficult profession that exists.